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  • Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First Century by Kyung Hyun Kim
  • Sojeong Park
Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First Century, by Kyung Hyun Kim. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2021. 321 pages.

With the ever-growing global popularity of K-pop idol groups including BTS, critical acclaim for the film Parasite, and finally, the worldwide hit of Squid Game, Korean cultural content is making unprecedented inroads in the West. Accordingly, global media and academia have attempted to explain how it is gaining its outsized influence on global culture. Although it has been over 20 years since Hallyu, or the global reception of Korean [End Page 410] popular culture, has been discussed through various texts and phenomena, the new phase of Hallyu calls for new perspectives and more discussion. Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First Century by Kyung Hyun Kim is a timely book that provides an updated overview of Korean popular culture. Instead of using the term Hallyu, the book anatomizes Korean cultural content, thereby helping readers understand the (re) construction of Hallyu phenomena throughout last two decades.

Addressing the overarching question, "how did South Korea achieve so much success without necessarily developing its own unique technology, styles, and culture in the twenty-first century," (p. ⅹ) the book explores the general geography of contemporary Korean popular culture through seven chapters. The first chapter provides a brief history of K-culture. The six subsequent chapters include interpretations of various facets of K-culture. Chapter 2 discusses how "blackness" and issues of authenticity are articulated and inflected in the Korean hip-hop music scene. Chapter 3 pays attention to the dominance of body-switch films in Korea to argue digitization and dividuation of subjectivity. Chapter 4 examines a Korean variety game show titled Running Man and its popularity in other Asian countries. In Chapter 5, Extreme Job and Parasite, two seemingly unrelated films, are paired to discuss the sociocultural implications of eating in contemporary Korean culture. In Chapter 6, Kim introduces the idea of 'meme-ification' while discussing how Samsung and the K-pop industry has innovated. The final chapter attempts to read Muhan Dojeon, the most successful Korean TV show throughout the last decade, using fundamental cultural elements such as han and hŭng. Underlying this expansive exploration over time and between genres is the concept of "mimicry." As implied by the question quoted above and the title of the book, Kim frames Korean popular culture using the concept of "hegemonic mimicry." He suggests the term to indicate that Korean culture has employed mimicry as a crucial tool to build cultural power by blurring the lines between original and copy, thus offsetting the monolithic power of Western culture. Assuming various approaches and perspectives from ethnic studies, media studies, literature studies, and regional studies, the book probes the dynamics of Korean popular culture.

The juxtaposition of various phenomena, texts, and philosophical concepts is where this book receives positive points. The book links Straight Outta Compton with Sopyonje, crossing the different ethnic identities. It also traverses time by pairing Choe Sung-hui's dance from the Japanese colonial period with Psy's Gangnam Style, and breaks the boundaries between genres by discussing similarities between Muhan Dojeon and madangguk. Thus, its [End Page 411] cross-media and transnational imagination inspire readers to put contemporary Korean popular culture content in varying contexts and to discover its sociohistorical and cultural political implications. Kim also draws on the philosophical concepts of Deleuze, Marx, Du Bois, Baudrillard, Barthes, Fanon, Lukacs, Freud, Mbembe, Benjamin, and so on to explain the phenomena of Korean popular culture. Despite some parts that require a more in-depth explanation, this attempt to theorize various facets of popular culture offers readers an insightful perspective on the media we consume every day.

Despite many virtues, this book includes some perspectives that might trigger a debate. For example, the statement that K-pop is "a governmental outfit that makes and promotes music that remains nonpolitical and uncritical of South Korea's reigning neoliberal patriarchy and its values" (p. 51) or that K-pop was "birthed as an industry programmed for export to other countries...